Wow! A HUGE thank you to Melanie @ Grab the Lapels for recommending not only this book but specifically the audiobook to me! Winner of the Audie Award for Solo Narration – Female in 2001, listening to Ruby Dee recite Their Eyes Were Watching God was incredibly powerful. I love this book even more for her interpretation.
There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is the soulful and heart-wrenching tale of Janie Crawford’s life. At the beginning of the book. Janie returns to her home in Eatonville, FL, one of the first all-black communities, and tells her story to a good friend, Phoeby, who has come to see what befell Janie during her absence. Expecting Janie to pick up when she left Eatonville, Janie instead jumps us, the reader who suddenly transformed into Phoeby, back in time to when Janie learned what it means to love and lust when she turned seventeen. But, being a black woman in the early 1920s, life was not easy for her. And so her woeful tale goes.
The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.
It was beautiful and painful watching a young and carefree Janie grow up into a woman who realizes what oppression means at the hands of those you love, and what it means to love and lose. Janie has three marriages throughout this novel. With each one, she gains more insight into her own soul. What her needs, desires, and hopes are. It’s a long and exhausting road, but we get to watch Janie grow from servitude to stability, from self-denial to self-actualization. As with most things in life, there are unexpected turns. But the most astounding part of Janie’s tale is the strength she has grown into to survive those turns.
Dey gointuh make ‘miration ‘cause mah love didn’t work lak they love, if dey ever had any. Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.
The most beautiful part of this story is Hurston’s writing. The dialogue captures to quirky characteristics of the southern black American community coupled with feathery poetic prose. This twist of both colloquial language and poetic prose is completely engrossing. Life-like dialogue coupled with poetic metaphor captured my attention and punched me in the gut emotionally. It’s easy to see Hurston as a philosopher and feminist ahead of her time, seamlessly tying together two unique voices into a beautiful ballad of love, grief, and freedom.
He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom-a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.
And Ruby Dee. Oh, Ruby Dee. You are a wonder. As civil rights activist, actress, and poet it was obvious that Dee truly understood this story. Through her magnificent voice, the characters truly came to life. The men, particularly Joe Starks and Tea Cake grew larger than life in my ears. Even listening to the store assistant pretending to be an adult by mimicking Joe Starks was spot on. I feel if I had read these words instead of listening to them, I would have missed something important. The dialect, inflection, and mood of the character’s interactions with one another would have been lost on me. The subtlety of societal pressure and class systems in the southern black community would not have been as apparent. Ruby Dee made this experience perfection for me. I would recommend anyone who wants to read this book to start with the audiobook. Even if you don’t normally listen to audiobooks.
“…Dat’s whut she wanted for me—don’t keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn’t have time tuh think what tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin’. De object wuz tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high school lak she told me, but Pheoby, Ah done nearly languished tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin’ extry and Ah ain’t read de common news yet.”
“Maybe so, Janie. Still and all Ah’d love tuh experience it for just one year. It look lak heben tuh me from where Ah’m at.”
“Ah reckon so.”
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is seeking to find beauty in a world filled with pain and loss, who wants to witness powerful and subtle character development, and who has a passion for the classics. You can be certain I’ll be checking out Zora Neale Hurston’s other works. Even if they are only half as engaging as Their Eyes Were Watching God, they will have been worth it.
What Do You Think?
- Have you read any of Zora Neale Hurston’s works? If so, what do you think?
- What audiobook last completely enraptured you?
- Can you think of any authors you enjoy because they capture a duality of voice? Such as, in this case, the colloquial language of southern black Americans and poetic prose?